Inhalation anaesthetics and climate change

Br J Anaesth. 2010 Dec;105(6):760-6. doi: 10.1093/bja/aeq259. Epub 2010 Oct 8.


Background: Although the increasing abundance of CO(2) in our atmosphere is the main driver of the observed climate change, it is the cumulative effect of all forcing agents that dictate the direction and magnitude of the change, and many smaller contributors are also at play. Isoflurane, desflurane, and sevoflurane are widely used inhalation anaesthetics. Emissions of these compounds contribute to radiative forcing of climate change. To quantitatively assess the impact of the anaesthetics on the forcing of climate, detailed information on their properties of heat (infrared, IR) absorption and atmospheric lifetimes are required.

Methods: We have measured the IR spectra of these anaesthetics and conducted calculations of their contribution to radiative forcing of climate change recognizing the important fact that radiative forcing is strongly dependent on the wavelength of the absorption features.

Results: Radiative efficiencies of 0.453, 0.469, and 0.351 W m(-2) ppb(-1) and global warming potentials (GWPs) of 510, 1620, and 210 (100 yr time horizon) were established for isoflurane, desflurane, and sevoflurane, respectively.

Conclusions: On the basis of the derived 100 yr GWPs, the average climate impact per anaesthetic procedure at the University of Michigan is the same as the emission of ∼22 kg CO(2). We estimate that the global emissions of inhalation anaesthetics have a climate impact which is comparable with that from the CO(2) emissions from one coal-fired power plant or 1 million passenger cars.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / chemistry*
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / chemistry*
  • Atmosphere / chemistry
  • Carbon Dioxide / chemistry
  • Desflurane
  • Global Warming*
  • Humans
  • Isoflurane / analogs & derivatives
  • Isoflurane / chemistry
  • Methyl Ethers / chemistry
  • Sevoflurane
  • Spectrophotometry, Infrared / methods


  • Air Pollutants
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation
  • Methyl Ethers
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Sevoflurane
  • Desflurane
  • Isoflurane